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Nov. 2 2009 - 8:00 am | 846 views | 3 recommendations | 10 comments

Baby, we were born to run

borntorunI have never been one to read running books. It was with some pride that I recently wrote a blog post refusing the label “runner,” claiming that I didn’t have the passion for the sport that real runners did.  It wasn’t about lack of confidence in my abilities; I simply preferred to think of myself as one who ran for exercise and the thrill of achieving goals than one who really cared about the actual running part.  Diligently hit the track and roads with my stopwatch, week in and week out?  Sure.  Think about running, read about running, live for running?  No, thanks.

So when I picked up a copy of Born to Run a few weeks ago, it was more out of obligation than anything else.  If people were going to read what I had to say about running, then surely I owed it to them to be informed about the biggest book to hit the running world in years.

I opened the book for the first time on an airplane, figuring if nothing else, the lack of alternative forms of entertainment would keep me reading it.  Two hours and ninety pages later, I was a runner.

If you think the true story of a primitive tribe whose members routinely run 100-plus mile races through the jungle wearing nothing but thin strips of rubber to protect their feet doesn’t exactly sound like a page-turner, you’re not alone.  Sure, it’s intriguing, but a whole book about it?

Christopher McDougall’s book, though, isn’t just about the Tarahumara tribe of superhuman athletes.  It’s about the fast-growing subculture of ultramarathoners, endurance junkies for whom 26.2 miles just doesn’t scratch the itch.  It’s about barefoot running, a return to our running roots whose converts believe it actually prevents the injuries that sideline eighty percent of runners each year.  And most importantly, it’s about loving to run.  Running, not for the sake of exercise or stress relief or even racing, but for the sake of running.  For the sake of connecting with the earth, our ancestors, and our fellow man.

I’m trying hard not to sound melodramatic, and to some extent I’m failing.  And so does the author, who goes just a little overboard with the running-is-love bit.  But McDougall does not fail in conveying his message that there is something about running that lies deep in our makeup.  Evolution has long been thought to have favored the quick and speedy, not those who could jog the longest.  But Born to Run presents a view of early humans as hunters who survived because of their ability to endure and outlast their prey, and there’s a lot of evidence to support the idea.  From that standpoint, it makes sense that running is something we’re born to do.  And that could explain why in times of distress, people turn to running en masse.  Just look at the distance-running booms of the Great Depression and the early-2000’s.  We run because it makes us feel good.  We run because it’s in our blood.

Born to Run isn’t going to transform couch potatoes into ultra-runners.  I think the fire for running, even if only as a means to stay healthy,  is something you have to light yourself.  But one thing the book can do is turn casual runners into passionate ones.  Before I read to Born to Run, running was something I had to do, not something I ever wanted to do.  I would choose a race, set a training schedule, and essentially put things on autopilot.  I did the workouts but nothing more, and I did my best to focus on the goal, not the process.

But now it’s different.  When I got off that plane, the first thing I did after checking into my hotel was hit the treadmill.  (And yes, for me, it’s still the dreadmill.)  Just three miles.  8:00, 7:30, and 6:20.  6:20, five days after running a marathon.  I don’t do 6:20 miles for fun.  And yet on this day, I did.  For the first time in my life, I wanted to run.  And I defy you to read Born to Run and do otherwise.

By Matt Frazier


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  1. collapse expand

    I NEED to read this book. I struggled with an injury for the better part of 2009, so it is reassuring to hear that running is something my body is meant to do. For many monthes I questioned whether I was defying nature (and my IT band) by running. Great review!
    -Megan

  2. collapse expand

    I’m looking forward to picking up a copy of Born to Run. I ran long and hard for 11 years while serving in the United States Marine Corps. But, now I’m discovering my inner drive and passion…to run free, steady, and fast for 26.2 miles :D Always looking for the next motivational read to keep me cutting edge. Thanks for the recommendation Matt!

    -KZ.

  3. collapse expand

    The San Diego Marathon Clinic modeled after the Honolulu Marathon Clinic and the Tesquinada of the Tarahumaras started in 1975.

    One of the early members, Sally Byram 73, still has a can of beer after her morning long runs. Sally ran her 68th marathon on her 68th birthday 5 years ago. After her daugther saw her mom finish the Iron Man in Kona, Theresa decided that she could do it and the next year both did the Iron Man.

    I think the interesting fact as far as I know, as I have read the book…yet, was that the team flips a wooden ball, about the size of a baseball,as part of the contest. A friend of mine, back in the late 70’s brought back to me one of the carved balls from Copper Canyon that was carved, and from the looks of it never used in a race.

    You can check out some of my running stuff at http://mindfulness.com/category/mindful-running

    Ozzie Gontang

  4. collapse expand

    “Two hours and ninety pages later, I was a runner.”

    It’s a good book with some interesting ideas, but I think this is overstating it just a tad. All due respect, I think running a cut-down three miler like that five days out from a marathon means you didn’t run the marathon hard/smart enough.

    I hope you’re right on the coach-potatoes-to-runners thing, though!

    • collapse expand

      pmcbride,

      I’m actually no longer a contributor to Running Shorts, but I had to log back in to respond to this one.

      You are certainly entitled to your opinion about the book and whether I overstated its motivational value. But the thing about not running the marathon hard enough…

      Finishing that marathon in 3:09:59 and qualifying for Boston by one minute was the proudest moment of my running life. I had worked at that goal for 7 years and on that day I ran the hardest, smartest marathon I could imagine running. My splits were almost exactly even and the final hour of running was most trying I’ve ever been through, requiring me to dig deeper than I ever had in my life.

      You could argue that it was the excitement of that achievement, rather than the book, that made me so eager to get out there and run hard so soon after the race. But your diagnosis of how I ran that marathon, based on so little information, could not be more wrong.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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Running Shorts is a part of the True/Slant network specializing in Running News, Trends, Insights and Perspectives. This blog is maintained by Megan Kretz (megan [dot] kretz [at] gmail [dot] com) and Geoff Decker (geoffreydecker [at] gmail [dot] com). Email either us with tips, suggestions or feedback. And thanks for reading!

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